Much Ado About Nothing

“Hey nonny nonny.”

I was prepared to love this movie. I was not prepared to love it this much. Perhaps there can be no praise for this film higher than this: I threw my back out laughing. *I swore I wouldn’t, but I have, in fact, kept this review spoiler free. The comments do not need to be as careful. However, in deference to our ongoing Buffy rewatch, I would like to keep this thread Angel spoiler free.*

Much Ado About Nothing is as close to perfect as I can imagine. It’s artistic without being alienating, innovative without trying too hard. It’s comprehensive without being simplistic. It’s approachable and, despite its monochromatic palette, not overly stylized. The cinematography was beautiful and creative without the intrusive ‘look what we can do’ sense. My expectations for a movie have never been higher than they were for Much Ado and it met them in every respect.

The cast, composed almost completely of Whedon favorites, shone. I could make a few complaints: Riki Lindhome (of the hilarious comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates) needs to learn how to speak slower and Jillian Morgese swallowed a couple of her lines, but all in all the cast rose to the occasion in fabulous manner.

Amy Acker was particularly perfect. She was transcendent as the witty Beatrice. Her fall down the stairs was one of the best I’ve ever seen and she very nearly made me cry in her more dramatic scenes. Her chemistry with Alexis Denisof was off the charts. Unfortunately for Denisof, she eclipsed him rather completely in nearly every scene they played together. He was excellent, but Acker couldn’t help outshining him. I left the theater with the firm belief that if Amy Acker doesn’t win an Oscar at some point in her career, a terrible, terrible wrong will have been committed against her. She was better than Emma Thompson in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever used the phrase “better than Emma Thompson” before.

Denisof is such a skilled dramatic actor, it’s easy to forget how damn brilliant he is at physical comedy. The scene where he overhears Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato was, to me, the funniest of the film. A close second is the scene when he encounters Beatrice outside and proceeds to show off in a ridiculous manner. It’s Wesley from the first season of Angel. Oh how I’ve missed Angel season one Wesley. Denisof handles the dialogue as well as I expected him to (which is very). I’m sure Whedon was down on his knees nightly thanking all powerful Atheismo (it’s a Futurama reference–don’t hate!) that his actors were familiar with the source material. Thankfully, the ‘does he even know what he’s saying’ problem (also known as Keanu Reeves-itus) does not rear its ugly head once.

Utterly surprising me were Reed Diamond as Don Pedro and Fran Kranz as Claudio. I never doubted that they would both play their roles well, but their characters ended up being so different from their usual fare, I was floored. Diamond, typically playing the sarcastic cop/federal agent/lawyer is unrecognizably...likable. He is kind, he is gentle, and I even felt sorry for him when I was supposed to. Kranz, usually the goofy sidekick, was sweet, lovable, and–for the love of God–when did he get so hot? No, seriously.

Expect to miss a good deal of the dialogue between Dogberry and Verges. I caught about every other line, but the rest was sadly overshadowed by laughter (the rest of the audience’s as well as my own). As expected, Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry puts others’ to shame. Somewhat unexpectedly, Tom Lenk steals a bit of the show from Fillion with his hilarious wannabe Verges. And the sunglasses! How brilliant was it to give them sunglasses? If this film will go down in history for nothing else, let it be noted that it is the first Shakespearean adaptation to make fun of CSI: Miami.

The modern setting just works. It’s presented matter-of-factly and not commented on in the manner one might have expected post-Romeo + Juliet. It’s just there. Leonato learns of Don Pedro’s coming by text, Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato listen to music via iPod, and paparazzi follow Don Pedro’s every move. I also have to mention that I love that the cupcakes at the wedding were from Sprinkles. That’s such a random LA-centric touch (yes, I know they’ve expanded elsewhere, but they’re still ours).

A thousand little pieces make me love this movie. Beatrice trying to fend off a would-be lover at the party, Leonato falling asleep in his kitchen while talking to Don Pedro, the fact that the leading men of our piece are being housed in a room clearly intended for two young girls. It’s amazing how much Joss Whedon the director was able to squeeze into a movie in which he wrote zero dialogue.

Everything about this film was sublime, from the casting to the art direction. It felt real, as if you’d been in this house with these people for a week. Bottles and discarded glasses were scattered about recklessly, clothes and hair were disheveled; it really felt like the night after a great party at a close friend’s house.

In what I doubt is a coincidence, that is also what’s happening on a meta level. Joss has invited us into his real life home and introduced us to his real life friends who do, in fact, regularly come over for Shakespeare readings. It’s odd to say about a movie he emphatically did not write, but Much Ado feels like the most personal of all of Joss’s work. It’s intimate. The film almost feels like a reward for us Whedon faithful. The Avengers was a show, put on for all to see. Much Ado About Nothing is an after party, reserved only for those who can appreciate it.

five out of four cupcakes

16 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Wow. Greater praise hath no Sunbunny. What a lovely review, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Josie Kafka said...

Sunbunny, what a wonderful review! I'm so excited to see this (although I'm going to wait for an early-Monday showing to avoid a crowded theater, since I hate, hate, hate crowded theaters).

I'll post more then. In the meantime, I'm so glad it exceeded your expectations!

CrazyCris said...

I'm very jealous! I seriously doubt it will be released in Spain... But in any case I'm better off waiting for the dvd than watching it on the big screen in Spanish. :p

It's great to hear it turned out so well! Can't wait!!! :o)

celticmarc said...

Wow sunbunny, quite an extensive review !

The movie was supposed to be released on the 7th in Montreal, but it has been postponed for the 14th. Grr. Argh.

Have to wait another week. The trailers make me eager to watch it. Oh Joss, we love you so much.

nancy namaste said...

A perfect review for a perfect movie. The only better version was one with Maggie Smith and the late, much lamented Robert Stephens who was her husband at the time. Alexis Denisoff - oh how I have missed him. The rest of the cast was equally wonderful. Sean Maher as Don Juan was great casting; Joss is too smart to cast anybody who didn't understand the part (hello Keanu). My only quibble is a personal one - all the women, however lovely and talented, are uber thin. There wasn't a curve in the lot, except for Margaret who didn't get much screen time.

jencat said...

Great review :-) And 'transcendent' was exactly the word I kept thinking too - it's so far beyond being just another version of Much Ado. And I say that as something of a Much Ado geek (the 2010 Shakespeare's Globe production is available on DVD and also massively worth seeing). This one is just.. so many layers. All the Whedonverse shout-outs and all the commentary on the fabric of the play. And getting to virtually wander around Chez Whedon (which is rather lovely!). Oh, and I'm going to nominate this now for the most sexed up version ever (yep, way beyond even half-naked Keanu in leather)... Whew. Chemistry. And Alexis Denisof suddenly looked like a genuine movie star with that beard... Where has he been hiding for the last few years?!

This is the first time ever this play has made me cry (Jillian Morgese and Clark Gregg, heartbreaking). Amy Acker probably came close though, she's been doing cameos in shows for so long that it was a joy to watch her own the screen for a while.

The only tiny downside was that I saw the film at a preview tonight with Joss somewhere in the same building but then missed out on the tickets they released later to actually see him do a 90 minute 'In Conversation' straight after in the same room *sob* So much to talk about with this adaptation....! Very glad I got to see the film though, it was sublime and I want to watch it again already.

Josie Kafka said...

What a delight.

As I was watching, lines from your review kept cycling through my head, Sunbunny--"Much Ado feels like the most personal of all of Joss’s work. It’s intimate"; "the leading men of our piece are being housed in a room clearly intended for two young girls"; and, of course, "How brilliant was it to give them sunglasses?"

I'm not sure I have anything to add. I'd seen the Branagh version before ever reading the play, and so Emma Thompson and Kenneth "Da Man" Branagh are burned into my brain, especially the way they handle some of the back-and-forth. I loved the gravitas that Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (who I still think of as Wesley) brought to those lines. Amy Acker is absolutely incredible.

A big shout-out to Sean Maher, too, who did a wonderful job. And this Joss fella everyone keeps going on about, too.

I've got one more thing to add, but I'm going to put it here, in the Joss Whedon Chat Thread:
http://www.douxreviews.com/2011/09/joss-whedon-chat-thread.html

celticmarc said...

Fudge; still not available in Montreal. Sigh.

sunbunny said...

Just saw it again! Loved it just as much! Except this time, the audience I was with was TERRIBLE. They barely laughed. Even at the physical comedy. It was annoying and actually distracting. I kept looking over like, "Don't you people get it?" Ugh. Whatever.

Sean Maher really stood out to me this time. Every time he entered a scene, I got the chills. Out and out villain if I ever saw one. Also, Clark Gregg in a very important but rather thankless role. I love the way he was able to bring comedy into the part of Leonato without having to depart from the source material.

Alexis Denisof seemed better to me, too. Still not in Amy Acker's league (have become completely convinced that she is one of the best actresses of her generation), but better. He's so much hotter with the stubble. Alyson Hannigan is a lucky woman. For many, many reasons.

sunbunny said...

Glad everyone's liking it as much as me! I was a little worried I'd oversold it, but after seeing it again, I'm convinced I was perfectly justified.

Nancy - Isn't it sad that that thought didn't even occur to me? I'm so accustomed to seeing super skinny actresses in movies, it doesn't even register anymore. I will say, at least these ladies look well fed. Curvy? No. But at least not starving like some leading ladies...

K said...

Spot on review, Sunbunny! Love how you pointed out the personality of a piece clearly not written by the man creating the movie. Having not read Shakespeare since high school, didn't expect to get as much out of the movie as I did. Attitudes and physical humor made it all perfectly clear. After reading your review, I saw the movie again and enjoyed it even more with your keen insights!

sunbunny said...

K - thanks so much! I'm glad everyone's enjoying the movie as much as me.

a.m. said...

It finally came out around me! I went to see it at an off time on the first day and was glad to see that there was at least a little audience, but they didn't laugh nearly as much at the Dogberry lines as I did. I left the theater wanting to read the play, which is not what I felt after seeing the Branagh version.

I loved all of the actors, but what I loved about them the most were the scenes when the dialogue became dramatic. The leads excelled both with the physical comedy and the deep tragedy. My favorite moment was getting chills and welling up during the "that I were a man" speech of Beatrice's. Amy Acker played that spectacularly.

"My expectations for a movie have never been higher than they were for Much Ado and it met them in every respect."

I had high expectations before reading your review and even higher ones after, yet I can still completely agree with this statement. I have a friend who couldn't see it with me yesterday so I'm going again soon and I can't wait!

Great review! Amazing movie! Hopefully this film will be successful enough to encourage Whedon to tackle another small project like this, on top of all of his other many jobs...

Billie Doux said...

I just saw it, and it's wonderful. Everyone is terrific, although Amy Acker is exceptional. Alexis Denisof is amazing, too, and I loved the little bits of physical comedy he did. Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk doing David Caruso with the sunglasses was a real highlight. Joss Whedon said during the commentary that Sean Maher, who plays the villain, and Nathan Fillion, who is incredibly funny, had never done Shakespeare before.

I'm listening to the commentary on the DVD right now, and I have a comment that spoils the TV series Angel. If you've seen Angel, you can check out my comment if you're so inclined.

Terrific review, sunbunny.

Billie Doux said...

Joss Whedon says in the commentary, near the end, when the focus is on Hero and Claudio, "They're clearly in love because they have a diffusion filter."

ChrisB said...

Oh dear.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations too high, but I thought it was (sorry, all) disappointing. It wasn't bad, but nor was it good.

Amy Acker did a very good job (sorry, sunbunny, but Emma Thompson is still Beatrice for me), but Alexis Denisof was hopeless. Yes, his physical comedy was good, but the lines utterly defeated him and he was completely outgunned by nearly everyone with whom he shared the screen. I was stunned by my reaction to him as I am a huge fan of his and expected much more from his performance.

It wan't just him. While I thought many of the actors did a passable job, their language seemed forced and unnatural to my ear. The rhythm felt off and more than once I winced at a line reading.

As nearly every review I have read points out, Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk did a marvelous job. Their speech and mannerisms were spot on and together they were formidable.

Having said all that, I thought that many of the choices Whedon made were inspired and, to be fair, the actors went in giving it their all. For some reason, it just didn't work for me.

I spent much more of the film than I should have lusting after the Whedon homestead. What a gorgeous house in gorgeous gardens. I would commit a felony for that kitchen…